Coaching for the Physician and Professional: What is it and Why do it?

Coaching for the Physician and Professional: What is it and Why do it?

“What would you like to talk about today?” and so begins the coaching conversation. What exactly is coaching? The International Coaching Foundation’s definition is as follows:

“Partnering with clients in a thought provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

A coach is not a therapist, advisor, or mentor. Nor is coaching involved in remedial or disciplinary action. Instead, coaching is non hierarchical with the assumption that the physician (client/coachee) is whole and resourceful and they have their own answers within. It is peer to peer as equals. By being present, listening, and asking questions, the coach facilitates self awareness in the client and actionable items to further the progress. Within the relationship between coach and client, confidentiality and non judgement are paramount which creates an atmosphere that fosters openness and willingness to learn more about oneself. This sort of work helps the physician to tap into their full potential and is on par with CME but for personal development and growth rather than professional acumen.

Numerous topics, personal and professional, can be broached in coaching using different tools and assessments such as Wheel of Life, Values alignment, DISC assessment for communication, and many others. Books and articles are frequently shared and discussed also. Some of the over-arching topics include:

  • Burn out
  • Work/life balance
  • Resilience
  • Fulfillment
  • Align values at work and home
  • Improve patient and client experience
  • Self kindness Improve communication with patients, staff, colleagues, family
  • Time management
  • Transition into retirement, a leadership role, or a new career
  • Onboard new providers
  • Physician and professional leader impact

Being a physician and professional today is extremely difficult and fraught with many challenges never encountered before. In addition, the personality of many physicians and professionals is one of hard driving perfectionism which contributes to the daily pressure, stress, and anxiety. Shame and stigma, unfortunately, prevent many from seeking help. There is neither shame nor stigma in coaching and, instead, coaching provides a safe container for the client to aspire to an improved sense of well being and the potential to lead a more fulfilling life.

There are several paths for pursuing coaching including ad hoc or impromptu sessions or a planned series of coaching sessions over 3-6 months. An initial conversation with the coach is always important to assure that coaching is the right fit. Most coaching sessions are by phone for maximal flexibility, but zoom and in person, including on-site observation, are other options as well. If in person, besides indoors, the conversations can also be outdoors for a walk, a bench in a park, or mindfulness-centered nature immersion (Forest Therapy).

Not changing is choosing; consider the cost and risk of doing nothing.

Brief Bibliography:

Effect of a professional coaching Intervention on the well-being and distress of physicians: A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Int Med 2019; 179 (10)

Changes in burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance in physicians and the general US working population between 2011 and 2014. Mayo Clin Proc 2015; 90 (12)

Physician Wellness: a missing quality indicator. Lancet 2009; 374 (9702)

Potential impact of burnout on the US physician workforce. Mayo Clin Proc.2016; 91(11)

Effective Physician Leadership. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Mayo Clin Proc 2015;90(4)